By James Lieber
Lieber asks all the hard questions - you know, the ones the answers to which are really, really embarassing. For example, where exactly has the $7 or $8 trillion from the Fed gone to?
In mid-September, when it was on the ropes, AIG received an astonishing $85 billion emergency line of credit from the Fed. Soon, that was supplemented by another $67 billion. Much of that money, to use the government's euphemism, has already been "drawn down." Shamefully, neither Washington nor AIG will explain where the billions went. But the answer is increasingly clear: It went to counterparties who bought derivatives from Cassano's shop in London.
And what about the chances of prosecuting?
The other key appointment is Attorney General. A century ago, when powerful trusts distorted the market system, we had AGs who relentlessly tracked and busted them. Today's crisis is missing, so far, an advocate as dynamic and energetic as the mortgage bankers, brokers, bundlers, raters, and quants who, in a few short years, littered the world with rotten loans, diseased CDOs, and lethal derivatives. . . according to William Black, an effective federal litigator and regulator during the 1980s savings-and-loan scandal, by 2004, the FBI perceived an epidemic of fraud. Now a professor of law and finance at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, Black has testified to Congress about the current crisis and paints it as "control fraud" at every level. Such fraud flows from the top tiers of corporations—typically CEOs and CFOs, who control perverse compensation systems that reward cheating and volume rather than quality, and circumvent standard due diligence such as underwriting and accounting. For instance, AIGFP's Cassano reportedly rebuffed AIG's internal auditor.
The environment from the top of the chain—derivatives gang leaders—to the bottom of the chain—subprime, no-doc loan officers—became "criminogenic," Black says. The only real response? Aggressive prosecution of "elites" at all stages in this twisted mess. Black says sentences should not be the light, six-month slaps that white-collar criminals usually get, or the Madoff-style penthouse arrest. . . .
Black suggests that derivatives should be "unwound" and that the payouts cease: "Close out the positions—most of them have no social utility." And where there has been fraud, he adds, "clawback makes perfect sense." That would include taking back the ludicrously large bonuses and other forms of compensation given to CEOs at bailed-out companies.
No one knows how much could be clawed back from the soiled derivatives reap. Clearly, it's not $600 trillion. William Bergman, formerly a market analyst at the Chicago Fed in "netting"—what's left after financial institutions pay each other off for ongoing deals and debts—makes a "guess" that perhaps only 5 percent could be recouped, which he concedes is unfortunately low. Still, that's $30 trillion, a huge number, more than 10 times what the Fed can deploy and over twice the
gross domestic product. Such a sum, if recovered through the criminal justice process, could ease the liquidity crisis and actually get the credit arteries flowing. U.S.
Now, here's the really, really good part. Umm, "good" is not the correct word; more like troubling. Very troubling.
Does Obama's choice for Attorney General, Eric Holder, have the tenacity and will to tackle the widest fraud in American history? Parts of his background don't necessarily augur well: He worked on a pardon for Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire tax evader once on the FBI's Most Wanted List whom
cleared. After leaving the Clinton era's Justice Department, Holder went to work for Covington & Burling, a D.C. firm that represents corporate heavies including Big Tobacco. He defended Chiquita Brands in a notorious case, in which it paid a $25 million fine for using terrorists in Clinton as security. Holder fits well within the gaggle of elite D.C. lawyers who move back and forth between government and defending corporate criminals. He doesn't exactly have the sort of résumé that startles robber barons. Columbia
There's much, much more there. Like the glaring conflicts of interest of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. So please, go read it.
By James Lieber